September 11, 2008

Defining Affluence

The topic for this month’s APLS blog carnival is…

Affluence. What do you think of the term? Does it apply to you? Do you dislike the word? Feel uncomfortable with it? Are there certain responsibilities that come with accepting that term?

As I mentioned in my entry entry into the first APLS carnival, I’m still warming up to using the term affluence to describe myself. If you read that entry, you already know that I’m a huge word person, and I like to look at others’ definitions before I form my own. The definition I found here is three-fold:

  1. A plentiful supply of material goods; wealth.
  2. A great quantity; an abundance.
  3. A flowing to or toward a point, afflux.

The first two definitions are perhaps the more common understanding of what this term means, and the ones many APLS (including myself) react fairly negatively to, at least at first. I think my reluctance to define myself as affluent (definitions 1 and 2) comes partly from the way my sister and I were raised. When we were growing up, our family didn’t have everything we wanted, but our parents did manage to find (whether new, used, or borrowed) everything we actually needed. We went without many of the newest, coolest toys and widgets, but we didn’t truly want for much, if anything I can remember. At the same time, I wouldn’t say we were particularly well off or that we had a “plentiful supply of material goods.” We could afford to go on vacation every year, but we always traveled inexpensively, driving our A/C-free Volkswagen Rabbit from Seattle to Chihuahua, Mexico or borrowing a family friend’s tiny RV so we could drive from Seattle to Washington, DC. We attended public schools, watched free network TV rather than cable, often rented movies instead of heading to the theater, bought used cars and drove them until they were absolutely non-functional, rode the bus, shopped at Sears and Value Village, and ate mostly home-cooked meals rather than take-out or restaurant food. Were we poor? No. But neither did we consider ourselves materially wealthy.

Today, my husband and I both have stable jobs, a mortgage we can handle, and manageable bills. As a result, we can afford most of what we want, in addition to what we need. In a global sense, and even in a national sense, we know that this makes us truly lucky and relatively affluent. The choice we’re currently shifting toward is to deliberately choose to pare back what we have to more closely match what we need, not what we want. Ultimately, we hope that this downscaling will allow us give more back to our community, reduce our (future) children’s student loans, and save more for a rainy day. We're working toward a more sustainable community, family, planet, and overall future.

Continuing through the definitions of affluence, I was particularly intrigued by the third one, along with the synonyms listed on the same page. These include ease, comfort, prosperity and exuberance. Interesting. If you define affluence as a flow toward a point, where in this case that point or goal is sustainability, then it makes perfect sense. We’re flowing toward a common goal. If you define Affluence as exuberance, I’d say that most of us APLS would be considered affluent. Many of us make a point to talk and blog about living sustainably, building community, becoming activists, and projecting exuberance about our point of view and our passion for the cause. Ultimately, we’re all trying to work toward a sense of ease and comfort in the idea that we’ve done as much as we can to save our planet (or at least as much as we reasonably can). I know I’m also working to achieve prosperity, which the same source defines as good fortune, strength and well-being.

So, do I feel comfortable calling myself affluent? Not entirely. But I do agree that, in many sense of the word, it does seem to fit.

Thanks for reading. If you haven’t visited this month’s gracious host, Green Bean Dreams, for links to the other carnival entries, please do so here.

1 comment:

Green Bean said...

Thoughtful post, Lori. I love that you found a definition you were more comfortable with - and a definition that does truly fit what we are all trying to accomplish.